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Brian S. S. v. Saul

United States District Court, C.D. California

September 16, 2019

BRIAN S. S., Plaintiff,
ANDREW SAUL, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.



         Pursuant to sentence four of 42 U.S.C. section 405(g), IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that Plaintiff's and Defendant's motions for summary judgment are denied, and this matter is remanded for further administrative action consistent with this Opinion.


         Plaintiff filed a Complaint on January 23, 2019, seeking review of the Commissioner's denial of disability benefits. The parties filed a consent to proceed before a United States Magistrate Judge on March 19, 2019.

         Plaintiff filed a motion for summary judgment on July 5, 2019. Defendant filed a motion for summary judgment on July 25, 2019. The Court has taken both motions under submission without oral argument. See L.R. 7-15; “Order, ” filed January 25, 2019.


         Plaintiff, a former maintenance technician, asserts disability since January 9, 2015, based on alleged physical and mental impairments (Administrative Record (“A.R.”) 34-42, 187, 209, 215, 288). The alleged mental impairments include “anxiety, memory loss, hearing voices, trouble sleeping and nightmares” for which Plaintiff takes Sertraline HCL (Zoloft), Zolpidem Tartrate (Ambien) and Quetiapine Fumarate (Seroquel). (Id.).

         Dr. Lawrence Ogbechie, a psychiatrist who began treating Plaintiff in February of 2015, diagnosed major depressive disorder, recurrent, with stressors including the shooting death of Plaintiff's son in 2009 and the wartime deaths in Cambodia of Plaintiff's mother, brother and two sisters (A.R. 325, 328). In a “Mental Disorder Questionnaire Form” dated July 13, 2015, Dr. Ogbechie opined that Plaintiff has: (1) “limited capacity to interact with others, ” due to his limited communication skills and his desire to be alone and not to talk to people; (2) poor concentration, inability to “sustain focused [sic] in a period of time, ” but the ability to complete simple household routines with some help and to follow simple oral instructions with “some difficulty”; and (3) “fair to poor” adaptability to stresses common to everyday life (A.R. 326-28). Dr. Ogbechie assigned a Global Assessment of Functioning (“GAF”) score of 55, [1] and gave Plaintiff a “guarded” prognosis (A.R. 328).

         In August and November of 2015, non-examining state agency review physicians considered some of the medical records (including Dr. Ogbechie's treatment notes and opinions) (A.R. 69-72, 81-85). The state agency physicians opined that Plaintiff has severe affective and anxiety disorders and, due to his difficulty with focus and sustaining concentration, has moderate limitations in his ability to: (1) carry out detailed instructions; (2) maintain attention and concentration for extended periods; (3) work in coordination with or in proximity to others without being distracted by them; (4) complete a normal workday and workweek without interruptions from psychologically based symptoms and to perform at a consistent pace without an unreasonable number and length of rest periods; (5) interact appropriately with the general public; (6) accept instructions and respond appropriately to criticism from supervisors; and (7) respond to changes in the work setting (A.R. 69-72, 81-85). The physicians opined that Plaintiff retains the ability to perform “simple repetitive tasks” requiring no more than “minimal or superficial interaction with others.” See A.R. 69, 72, 84-85 (reportedly giving “weight” to Dr. Ogbechie's opinions) (emphasis added); but see A.R. 70, 83 (claiming, “There is no indication that there is medical or other opinion evidence [to weigh].”).

         The Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) found that Plaintiff has a “severe” major depressive disorder, but retains the residual functional capacity for work at all exertion levels limited to “simple, routine and repetitive tasks, with no more than frequent interaction with public and coworkers” (A.R. 16, 18-19, 21 (giving only “partial weight” to Dr. Ogbechie's July, 2015 opinions and to the state agency physicians' opinions)) (emphasis added). The ALJ found that a person with this residual functional capacity could perform jobs existing in significant numbers in the national economy (A.R. 23 (referencing vocational expert testimony at 55-60)). The Appeals Council denied review (A.R. 1-3).


         Under 42 U.S.C. section 405(g), this Court reviews the Administration's decision to determine if: (1) the Administration's findings are supported by substantial evidence; and (2) the Administration used correct legal standards. See Carmickle v. Commissioner, 533 F.3d 1155, 1159 (9th Cir. 2008); Hoopai v. Astrue, 499 F.3d 1071, 1074 (9th Cir. 2007). Substantial evidence is “such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971) (citation and quotations omitted); see Widmark v. Barnhart, 454 F.3d 1063, 1067 (9th Cir. 2006).

If the evidence can support either outcome, the court may not substitute its judgment for that of the ALJ. But the Commissioner's decision cannot be affirmed simply by isolating a specific quantum of supporting evidence. Rather, a court must consider the record as a whole, weighing both evidence that supports and evidence that detracts from the [administrative] conclusion.

Tackett v. Apfel, 180 F.3d 1094, 1098 (9th Cir. 1999) (citations and quotations omitted).


         Plaintiff asserts that the ALJ erred in connection with the assessment of Plaintiff's mental residual functional capacity. For the reasons discussed herein, the Court agrees.

         I. Summary of the ...

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